Looking in most magazines, you will see examples of the most recognized bottle-feeding position for babies. You know the pose, holding the baby in a cradled position, lying on their back in the person’s arm with the bottle tilted so milk fills the entire nipple, and feeding the baby until the bottle is empty. This position is less than ideal for your baby and can contribute to some feeding challenges. There is another way to bottle feed that makes it more manageable for your baby and follows their rhythm of drinking and pausing during feeding.
If we break down what’s going on in that position, it makes more sense why this is not the best position for your baby to feed from a bottle comfortably. We can also get clues about how we can improve bottle feeding for your little one.
Let’s start by considering if you were the baby. Picture yourself lying on the couch reclined in the same way as the baby in our scenario. Your partner or friend comes over with a drink. They hold it for you with the liquid continuously flowing. You keep swallowing because that really is your only option. You may gulp and sputter a little, but you drink it all. Your friend smiles and assumes you are happy, satisfied, and content. You were not an active participant but more passive and reactive during this process.
Side-lying bottle feeding slows the pace of a feed and allows you to follow the baby’s cues. When a baby pauses during drinking or stops eating when full and satisfied, the parent can see that cue more clearly and stop the bottle feeding, and the baby is less likely to be overfed. Over time, they have a lower risk of obesity and will develop a healthy metabolism. This bottle-feeding method allows your baby to be an active rather than a defensive eater.
Babies don’t always drink the same amount at every meal, just like we may not eat the exact same amount of food each time we sit down to eat. Sometimes, we just want a snack; other times, we want a bigger meal. Babies typically drink between 1.5-4 oz per feeding. If they only had 1.5 oz, they may ask to eat again sooner. Other times, they will take a larger bottle feeding and be content for a stretch of 2-3 hours. Talk with your baby’s other caretakers about how to bottle feed and educate them on a reasonable amount of milk to expect your baby to take.
Don’t believe the marketing! Bottles are different from the breast. Babies use different muscles to feed from a bottle nipple than directly at the breast.
Just because a bottle is marketed as slow flow doesn’t mean it actually is. Even among the same bottle nipples, not each one has the same flow rate. (2)
In a study of 45 different nipple brands, testing 10 of each showed there is a range of flow rate from 2 mL/minute to more than 80 mL/minute. (1)
Another study of 26 different brands showed similar results with a range of 1.68 mL/min to 85.34 mL/min. (2)
Choose a bottle nipple shape that has a gradual slope from the tip of the nipple to the base.
- You want your baby to mimic breastfeeding while taking the bottle, even though there are differences.
- A nipple with a sharp angle from the nipple to the base can make your baby slide their lips down the nipple shaft and have a more shallow gape.
- That type of nipple encourages a shallow latch and sucking on the nipple more like a straw.
- A gradual slope from nipple to base encourages the baby’s lips to flange and have a deeper latch using more of the muscles used during breastfeeding.
Instead of using the traditional cradle hold, try the side-lying bottle-feeding position for a more comfortable and enjoyable feeding experience for your baby. Following your baby's cues and allowing them to take breaks and control the feeding pace promotes healthier eating habits and reduces the risk of overfeeding. Remember to choose a bottle nipple with a gradual slope and consider the flow rate of the nipple, as they vary significantly among different brands. Give your baby the best bottle-feeding experience by making it a baby-led and relaxed process.